When the Dyer Sheehan Group, Inc., of Ventura released its annual Ventura County Apartment Market Survey last week, it came as no surprise that rental prices in Ventura County were high. What was a bit shocking, however, was not the cost of housing so much, but how fast it is rising. From 2015 to 2016 rental prices went up 8.4 percent with a median price of $1,759. In Ventura, prices increased by 8.3 percent to a median price of $1,623. And the worst of it is that the Ventura apartment vacancy rate from July 2015 to January 2016 dropped from 2.08 percent to 1.85 percent, which means, basically, property owners can charge whatever desperate renters being squeezed out the market can afford. Five percent vacancy rate is considered healthy for both renters and property owners. Further, salary growth increased by 5.2 percent countywide, which means housing prices are exceeding income levels. Simply put, this is a shameful state of affairs and our elected officials need to grasp the severity of the situation.
On Monday, Feb. 22, the Ventura City Council unanimously opposed the Residential Allocation Plan (RAP), which would cap housing construction and give more control to the City Council on each and every project that would come before the city. The RAP would essentially devalue the General Plan, which is basically a zoning map of where certain construction projects could be built. After nearly a year, over $170,000 of taxpayer funds and a plan that was unanimously opposed by the Planning Commission, the City Council followed in suit and decided against enacting it. But there was one caveat — while the City Council would dump the RAP, the Council voted to further scrutinize existing zoning codes, strengthen building standards and add additional design guidelines. While this may sound fine, this is just more of what we have become accustomed to from the City Council, to further complicate a process that is already severely complicated in a city notorious for slow (or no) growth policies.
While the City Council did well by shooting down the RAP, what they seem to forget is that the market dictates what cities need, not elected officials. Elected officials have utopian ideals, some envision three bedroom houses with 2.1 kids and white picket fences, but that’s not the reality of our growing population and limited land resources. If the City Council wants to intervene further on developments being proposed for the city, it should advocate for more affordable housing projects because as we have seen with certain major developments coming online soon, moderate to upper end rental housing developments is what the market dictates. Our median rental housing prices already accommodate moderate incomes.
Our elected officials need to focus on creating a diverse housing and job market where young people, fledging couples with young ones, middle class, middle aged and older whose children have grown and moved out can live together. We aren’t even accommodating the natural population growth — there is little evidence of migration to Ventura County. In the current direction we are moving, the future of Ventura will be upper-, older-, even retired class imbalanced with the immobile poor/service industry workers crammed in expensive housing options. Is that what Ventura should look like?